Teaching with the “Do No Harm” podcast

I finished listening to the last episode of the Do No Harm podcast today. It was a hard podcast to listen to, emotionally speaking, and I am no stranger to working in child welfare. I listened while walking around the neighborhood over the last couple of weeks, and there were a couple of portions of it in particular that were so emotional I literally had to stop and catch my breath. So, before assigning to students I would talk with them in general about what they would hear, and give some more specific trigger warnings related to the episodes of Immediate Danger and Standard Protocol.

Some years I teach a course specifically on child welfare, and when I teach that again I will likely incorporate all of this podcast throughout the semester. I plan on using portions of it this coming semester in my class that covers lifespan development. At each stage of life we discuss how trauma and experience with other adversity impacts development, and we also talk about the impact that different systems (education, health, child welfare, etc) have on development. So, this podcast is clearly a fit.

Beyond the discussion of child development and how CPS systemic involvement affects family functioning, there is also an important discussion of race-bias, and systemic racism in the child protection system. This really comes out in the episodes The Fighter and The Cost. This would be a good pairing with the TED Talk referenced in this post on addressing disproportionality in the child welfare system: https://teachingbeloved.com/2020/07/06/reflections-of-a-baby-addict-we-have-to-address-disproportionality-in-child-welfare/

There were several times during this podcast I thought about my own kids. I am fortunate/lucky/privileged/blessed to have 3 healthy children and a supportive partner in a relatively safe community. But listening to this podcast I was reminded of times we were not vigilant enough when the kids were small: when they fell off a rocking horse, when they rolled off the bed, and when one, running through the house in the unsteady way toddlers do, gashed her head. And we were lucky that no one was hurt beyond bumps and a few stitches. And we were lucky no one assumed our behavior was neglectful or abusive based on the color of our skin.

Child welfare work is hard work. I wish front line workers had better supports (supervision, training, lower caseloads, etc). We need systemic change to better support workers, so that they can be better supports and advocates for the children and families with whom they work. And, this is not addressed in Do No Harm, but we also need to be able to provide support and assistance to families who need it. We know a lot about risk factors for abuse and neglect, and yet we do so little prevention. (Maybe a post for another day, but in the meantime here is my favorite site for understanding how we can work with children and families to build resilience: https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/resilience/)

In the meantime, I hope you listen to Do No Harm. If you aren’t a social worker or a teacher or a parent, I still bet you would find value in the podcast, for helping you think about how you could work to be an advocate for children and families in your community.

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